Firstly, we have to remember that the menopause, with all its discomfort and inconveniences, is a natural stage of life! It is a change in our lives where we need to adjust, and we need to focus on this and make these changes as they can make a difference. Of course, some of us will need further intervention and help but for many of us, we can manage this reasonably easily.
In this blog, we are going to look at sleep and why so many of us have disturbed sleep, and what we can do about it.
Why do we need sleep?
We all need sleep. We feel much better, more alert, happier, and more energetic. We are better at functioning throughout the day, absorbing information and our concentration levels are better. Our bodies are good at letting us know when we need sleep as we feel extremely tired. Sleeping relieves this tiredness just as eating relieves hunger. Whilst we are sleeping, our bodies repair tissue, grow muscle and rejuvenate hormones.
How much sleep do we need?
The ideal amount of sleep is around 7 hours. Too little and it can affect our mental health, heart health and how we think, learn, solve problems and make decisions. Too much sleep can be linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, although the effects of this are unclear and sleeping for longer might be due to underlying health problems.
How is our sleep affected by the Menopause?
We are at that stage in our lives when we are affected by the perimenopause, the menopause and the postmenopause and all of a sudden our sleep patterns go out of the window and we either can’t get to sleep or can’t get back to sleep when we wake up! So, what causes this change to our sleep?
Hormones!! The depletion of oestrogen in our bodies contributes to interrupted sleep as this is responsible for causing menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and sweats as well as anxiety and depression, meaning that it’s difficult to get to sleep as well as causing us to wake up through the night. The decline of progesterone can also be a factor in disturbed sleep as progesterone increases the production of Gamma aminobutyric acid which aids sleep. Low progesterone can bring on anxiety and restlessness meaning that we are more likely to wake through the night. Another important hormone needed for sleep is Melatonin and this also decreases with age.
So, it’s not surprising that we are all turning into sleep deprived zombies!
What can we do to help improve our sleep?
There are many things which we can try to help us sleep better, some are natural, and some are not. Let’s start with things that you can do straight away.
Healthy Eating – An unhealthy diet can result in extra weight which can make hot flushes worse, as well as leading to diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Interrupted sleep and waking frequently is also responsible for putting on weight! Unhealthy foods can cause inflammation in the body which in turn can cause joint pain, raised blood pressure, and raised blood sugar. This inflammation together with high cholesterol can lead to clogging of the arteries which in turn can lead to a heart attack or stroke. A bad diet can cause problems at any age but for women suffering from menopause related sleep deprivation, it’s even more prevalent. The foods which add to inflammation in the body are highly processed foods, sugar, white pasta, white rice, certain oils including corn oil and sunflower oil and dairy and red meat as well as caffeine and excessive alcohol. Smoking also plays a huge part in disrupting sleep as your liver must work very hard to rid the body of the toxins. Substitute these for olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, spinach, walnuts and almonds, eggs, chicken, whole grains, and high-quality dairy products. As we lose muscle mass and bone strength, it’s important to eat more protein when going through the menopause. Try to eat carbohydrates with your evening meal as this will help to slow the body down, making it ready for sleep.
Exercise – This is great for relieving anxiety and depression and increasing feelings of happiness due to the release of endorphins, all of which help to promote sleep. Exercise also triggers an increase in body temperature and when this temperature drops, it helps us to fall asleep, so exercising later in the day can certainly help with sleep. Have a look at our 30 minute circuit or our classes Fitness Classes. We also offer 10 Minute Real Time Workouts which are a great way to introduce yourself to exercise if you don’t have much time (or don’t enjoy working out! – What’s just 10 minutes?) And they are as effective as a longer workout too.
Relaxation – Try to wind down before bed. Whether that is by having a massage, a relaxing bubble bath, a gentle stretch, or just reading with some lighted aromatherapy candles, it is very important as winding down helps to reduce stress and tension and get our bodies into a relaxed state ready for sleep. Make sure that you have a regular bedtime routine so that you get used to getting ready for sleep. I think it’s the same as getting a baby into a bedtime routine. Their bodies get used to certain things happening right before sleep, so they know that it’s time to sleep. We are the same. We need to get our bodies into that routine so that it becomes a habit. This may take a few weeks to get used to so bear that in mind and don’t give up. Try not to go to bed straight after watching television or using your mobile phone or laptop as your brain will still be working and you will find it hard to unwind and fall asleep. Also, make sure that you are not hungry or too full. Try to leave at least 3 hours between your evening meal and going to bed. If you are hungry, have a light snack but nothing sugary. Try to avoid spicy foods as this can increase sweating. Make sure your bedroom is a relaxing environment, cool but not cold, well ventilated and block out as much light as possible. Ensure you have a good, comfortable mattress and nice bedding. Wear loose, comfortable pyjamas preferably made of cotton, or, if it is comfortable for you to do so, sleep naked, and, most importantly, go to the loo before you go to bed! If you do wake up in the night and cannot get back to sleep, then get up and maybe read for 20 minutes or until you feel sleepy. Resist the temptation to look at your phone or watch television. We offer 10 Minute Stretch Routines which are perfect for relaxing the body with our TonedIn10 Membership – these can help prepare your body for sleep, or help you drift back off after waking in the middle of the night as they relax your mind.
Sleep, exercise and good nutrition are all essential, especially for women who are going through the menopause. It is especially important that we take extra care of ourselves at this stage of our lives. We can easily make improvements, but we must make the effort to do so.
Sometimes, a little extra help is needed with menopause symptoms including not sleeping. If you have tried all the above and it hasn’t helped, then you might need to try a specific treatment.
HRT – This isn’t for everyone and it does come with some side effects, but it is very effective at treating menopausal symptoms especially night sweats. Most hormone replacement therapy is mainly made up from an oestrogen with a progestogen added (although this is not needed if you have had a hysterectomy), both of which are natural female hormones which decline during menopause. Studies have shown that the progestogen (usually a synthetic form of progesterone) helps with increasing sleep. We would always recommend speaking with your GP if you are considering HRT as an option.
So, ladies, if you’re struggling to sleep, hopefully with a little effort and a few changes you will feel much better. Don’t give up hope. You are not alone, there is help out there.
Caroline & Hannah xx